TG Omori at his home. Photo: Kelenna Ogboso.

Interview: TG Omori Is Breathing New Life Into Nigerian Music Videos

The young director responsible for 2019's most audacious music videos—from Naira Marley "Am I A Yahoo Boy" to Tekno & Zlatan's "Agege"— talks about his creative process, working with greats and all the trials that got him here.

It's no secret that most of the buzz about Lagos comes from its ever expanding creative scene. The rise of a bold, eager generation has taken charge, pushing the boundaries of acceptance of creative expression in Nigeria. The younger generation tries to upset conformed notions with acts of radicalism, overflowing with streams of individuality, and their most important tool: the internet. A place which allows them to show the world every step of their evolution.

This Nigerian creative boom has also spurred an era of photographers and filmmakers with fresh interpretations of age-old phenomena. Music videos have become a more pronounced manifestation of how music is consumed too. Since global music networks MTV and Trace arrived and dominated African screens, maintaining mainstream relevance through popular videos has become the norm.

The yearning for better music videos increases daily, with Youtube and Instagram serving as an infinite pool of inspiration. Recently, directors such as Meji Alabi, Moe Musa, and Daps, have usurped the class of Clarence Peters, DJ TEE, and others.

One director in particular, who is responsible for around half of the videos on the summer 2019 charts on MTV and Trace is 24-year-old Thank God Omori, popularly known as TG Omori, a new face on the scene staking his claim.

TG Omori at home. Photo: Kelenna Ogboso.

TG is known for his outlandish videos, taking on controversial issues and reimagining them into visual stories or dancing cues. His work can be seen in music videos ranging from Naira Marley's "Am I A Yahoo Boy" and "Soapy," to Olamide & Wizkid's "Oil & Gas" and Tekno & Zlatan's "Agege," the last of which earned him a call into police questioning.

TG grew up in Agungi, Lagos, from a modest middle-class background, seeing the stars only on his TV screen. Today, he works with the current top crop of afrobeats acts.

Before I met TG, I waited in his new apartment in the urban side of Lagos and could feel his vision pulsing through his then partly furnished home. "I think one one of my strongest points from my childhood is the ability to think of crazy ideas and concepts," TG mentioned. "Like I have something in my head, this very moment I can create a concept, my concepts are always very weird. So I had friends who were scared of me."

"My creativity is inbuilt, I have this thing in my head already, I know I can create, but I just need to train myself through the process of creating," he said as we began our conversation. They are the words of someone certain of what he wants and is ready to take on his new found fame, almost like he's been waiting for this all his life.

Read ahead for our chat with TG Omori, the director breathing new life into Nigerian music videos.

Naira Marley x Zlatan - Am I A Yahoo Boy (Official Video)

You opted out of attending university. Was there a particular moment you realized the path you would rather take?

TG Omori: School was not my thing, I wanted to be an entertainer. I wanted to go to film school, a musician, an actor. I just wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I just woke up one day, was online and I saw ad on WAP TV for PEFTI, a Nigerian film institute, so I decided to make enquiries, made the requirements to get in. That's how I switched to a film school, while my parents still thought I was in university. It was heart-breaking when I told them that I wasn't in university. Basically all through my life as a kid I touched different parts of creativity. At a point in my life I was a dancer, a rapper, stand up comedian, actor, but I ended up as a filmmaker.

What made you select filmmaking?

I always wanted to be an actor, I was more of a stage actor. In film school I got picked from time to time to go act on Super Story, Papa Ajasco and every time I got on set I was loving the energy. I wanted to be big, I went for auditions, I wanted to be in the movies, but in the process I got hungry and bored cause getting roles wasn't easy. Even when I got roles, the pay was not nice. I had family, myself, people to take care of and every director made it feel like they're doing you a favour on the set. Sometime they wouldn't pay; other times it was very low. So I looked around the film set for who was actually making money; is it the actors? or this man always holding the camera and director? I was like okay, what does it take for me to be a director? What does it take for me to be a cinematographer? What does it take to be bigger than Moe Musa? Sesan? Those guys were doing awesome.

TG Omori at his home. Photo: Kelenna Ogboso.

How did you start progressing from a stage actor to a filmmaker?

I started doing research, I went online, Youtube, learnt how to set a camera. Luckily for me, at that period I got a job in a production house. I was working as a writer, I wrote scripts, sitcoms, skits, commercials, a friend of mine worked there as a camera operator, so when the production house needed a writer, he recommended me to the boss. At that time, I still wasn't thinking of being a cinematographer. I just wanted to express myself. I got the job and worked as a writer, wrote a few skits. I figured it was my best shot, they had cameras, editing systems, internet, so I was like I want to be a director. This is my best opportunity to learn how to. If I want to learn how to edit they have editing systems here, at midnight when nobody is working I can come play with it. If I want to learn cinematography, they have top notch cameras here, all I need to do is beg one of my guys to smuggle one out and I go play with it.

I had crazy ideas, but I wasn't a cinematographer, I couldn't bring it to life. I kept researching. At a point I felt I was okay to try out what I've learnt. I called my friends who already knew me from acting, shared my crazy concepts to them and they agreed to it with a budget of 20,000 Naira ($55 USD), which I used to rent cameras and pay for a location for a viral video, I'll add like 10,000 Naira ($28 USD) and go rent a Canon 5D Mark III camera, get a tripod, two lenses, and we'd go out on the streets and start shooting. That's how I started making videos.

Seven months later my friend invited me to come to their studio, he introduced me to Lucas James, who managed ES+, he liked my work. So he told me they had a budget of 500,000 Naira to shoot a video. That amount of money was like 50 million for me. I knew this was my shot. It was the first time I shot with a Red Dragon camera, I had never seen a Red Dragon in my life, I had to pay someone else to be a camera assistant on set, just in-case I go wrong with the camera but I did not allow him to shoot because I knew what I wanted. I said to myself I wanted the best for the video. I shot that video and it made it to Television, Soundcity TV loved it, the video was all over. This was 2015. I got a call from someone in Chicago some days later trying to book me to shoot a video for her artist, Minz. I charged them 1,000,000 Naira ($2800 USD) and they beat it down to 700,000 Naira ($2000 USD). That was how I shot the video for "Aunty Patricia."

Olamide - Oil and Gas

How did this lead to your first big break?

I kept shooting and more people started recognising me and my videos. This was in 2016/2017, I had a video for Dremo, I had a video for DJ ECool, shot a video for Jinmi Abduls & Mayorkun. I was breaking into the mainstream at this point and my name was circulating in the A-list circles.

In December 2018, Ycee's manager hit me up and asked to me shoot the video for his song "My Side," the video blew up. One of the highlights of the video was it felt like a foreign video even though I shot it in Nigeria. So people started asking questions about who shot the video, from there Yung L had a song with Reekado Banks, I shot a video for him.

Then I shot a video featuring Zlatan, he was my friend, we were guys from way back. We stayed together at a point. I had a project with a guy who featured him and wanted me to shoot the video, which I did and it was mad, that was in March 2019.

Zlatan liked the video, and he had a song with Naira Marley and he recommended me to shoot the video for "Am I A Yahoo Boy." Naira Marley hit me up on IG, liked my work, sent me the song and said we should work. The song was the most controversial song at that point, and I took up the video and shot one of the most controversial videos on TV then. All eyes were on Marley then so I gauged that if I finessed the video the world would watch it. In between that period, I shot "Murder" for King Perry, like a week before this. The two videos dropped the same week. So I got more publicity, all over my socials.

Tekno & Zlatan - Agege (Official Video)

Following that, I shot videos for Olamide, "Oil and Gas" and "Totori" with Wizkid, then Fireboy, Timaya, Tiwa Savage, and D'banj, Tekno. Naira Marley reached out again because he had another controversial song, "Soapy," and he believed I was the only one that could deliver it. I constructed a prison and replicated his experience in prison and made it fun because it's a fun song. I shot another controversial video for Tekno and Zlatan which pissed off the police, and had them call me for questioning.

Why do you like controversy? Do you like your videos hitting a nerve?

People tend to say my videos are controversial because they are different. The first thing I do when I hear a song, 'cause all Nigerian songs sound the same (I'm sorry to say)... If I have ten Nigerian songs, five sound alike, so I have five songs that sound alike but want five different videos. So what I do is when I hear a song, I match it with other similar songs and try to make my video idea different from what they've shot. I rather think of ideas that have not been done. So most times when I'm conceptualising the first thing I'm thinking of is what has not been done and what is going to spark? That's why I don't watch videos to create. I just come up with risky ideas and try it. It's always risky, that's what I consider an outstanding creative, you either fail or you're applauded. I think because it's different from what others have done people are scared of it.

TG Omori at home. Photo: Kelenna Ogboso.

Do you see yourself going into filmmaking full time?

Yeah, I'm going create films when I'm older. I don't think I want to shoot videos forever, I want to be a filmmaker and produce videos. But if I have an idea for a film before then, I can attempt it. I'm a spiritual person I work with the spirit.

What is next for you, now that you're in a position of attention?

I want to bring the world to Africa, I want you to want to come shoot in Nigeria. We're painting Africa as a culture everyone wants to be apart of. The same way you want to shoot pop videos in America, I want them to come shoot afrobeats videos in Africa, to make afrobeats a lifestyle the whole world wants a part of. I want Beyoncé, Jay Z, J Hus to want to shoot a video with me here in Nigeria. I want my videos to be a point of reference.

Follow TG Omori on Instagram.

Photo by Bird Lambro

In Conversation With Cameroonian Drag Artist Bebe Zahara Benet: 'You Don't Stop Doing Your Work'

The U.S.-based Cameroonian artist speaks to us about her upcoming EP, Broken English, and how she's navigating the world of music amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Bebe Zahara Benet is three things: fierce. fabulous, and a force. For avid followers and fans of the reality show RuPaul's Drag Race, you may remember Bebe Zahara Benet as the winner of the inaugural season of the program back in 2009. Since then, she's gone on to star in TLC's Dragnificent and more recently, has been back in the recording studio working on her upcoming EP, Broken English.

Last week, she dropped "Banjo," the first single o the EP. It's a fun, energetic and uninhibited number that likens romantic pursuits to the sweet harmonies of the stringed instrument. Naturally, the accompanying music video is just as vibrant and light-hearted.

The Cameroonian drag artist moved to the United States when she was 19-years-old and has grown to see herself as belonging to two homes. She's put out a ton of music including including the EPs Face and Kisses & Feathers, as well as a number of singles including "Fun Tonite", "Get Fierce (Lose Yourself)" and "Starting a Fire." Currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she says that it's been two years since she's put out original music and it's time to give her fans what they've been asking for.

We spoke with Bebe Zahara Benet on lockdown from her home in Minneapolis, and got to hear more of what went into creating her upcoming project, the challenges of being an alternative artist from a conservative African country and how she's navigating the world of music during the coronavirus outbreak.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Interview: Buju Is the Blooming Afro-Fusion Artist You Should Know

Over the last year, Buju has gone from a viral sensation to one of Nigeria's young music stars pushing afro-fusion to new heights.

When chasing a dream from Nigeria, one needs a surplus of that secret sauce called belief. Young Nigerians in the music space have always forced the issue of their recognition as new viral sensations coming out with fresh, innovative styles are delimiting the shine of the limelight.

Late last year, "Spiritual," was the new record on everybody's lips. While hip-hop sensation Zlatan served as the poster boy for the single, the voice of a new melody twister carried most of the track. 22-year-old Daniel Benson, popularly known as Buju or BujuToyourEars in full, piqued the interest of industry giants and has been on an upward trajectory since then.

Around four million streams later, a handful of major performances, Headies nominations, and a remix of his hit single "L'Enu" featuring his idol Burna Boy on the way, the stars don't seem to be the limit for Buju.

Meet Buju, the latest addition to the list of young Nigerian stars pushing the new generation into the conversation.

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."

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